Your Source for Feminist Discourse

Feminist Ops

So, I was at Wal-Mart the other day (promising start, right?) and I caught a glimpse of this as I was passing through the parking lot:

Needless to say, I was caught off guard at the very least.  As much as I was wondering if that kind of sticker is even legal, what was more heinous to consider was the group of little kids walking by who were talking about it.  My initial reaction was to post this and go on a rant about why this kind of icon is offensive and how no one should put something like that in a public place.  But, after giving this sticker much thought, it led me to another arena where this type of iconography is present: video games.

As I’ve mentioned before, Call of Duty has been my favorite form of procrastination for a few years.  But, last year’s release of Black Ops has led me to question a few things about the game series, and I’m not just talking about the increased presence of the sleazy “Halo” jump or the nerfed knife.  My qualm stems from the new ability to customize gamer icons.  For example, mine looks something like this:

I know, you all are so jealous….


But, my problem is not the option to customize these icons, it’s when the icons start looking more like this:


And this:

Over the years, the game and I have had a love-hate relationship over my unwillingness to think that I just have to “deal with” patriarchal representations in the game if I want to play.  I realize that once you enter the “war zone,” you will inevitably encounter entrenched patriarchal undertones and this is a point where my personal views conflict with the game.  But, this newfound ability to create a penis (giggle) and have it be your icon has taken things to a new level of the nonsensical.  For me, there exists a huge distinction between these icons and patriarchal language through the chat feature (which I also have a huge problem with).  You can’t turn off gamer icons like you can the chat feature.  So, if you want to play the game, you basically have to deal with these ridiculous sexist depictions.  For me, when I see these icons, there comes a sense of helplessness.  Every time I see them, I report them immediately to both the game and Xbox Live.  Sometimes, I go as far as sending a private message requesting they change their icon (this normally doesn’t end well).  But, how do I know anything is even being done past my request?  I have heard COD ignores these reports, which is why I report to Xbox as well.  But, in the end, where does this get me?  I never find out if any action has been taken against this icon, so should I even bother filing?

Here is Act 2 of my dilemma: why do people even use this nonverbal/verbal language in the first place?  Ed Halter in his book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games describes reasons why people turn to war-centric video games in the first place.  He states that video games are “like being drunk all day” in bloodlust and that history comes alive, but you have the capacity to change it.  But, why turn to sexism?

I think one reason actually parallels why young people use the Internet to explore sexuality: it removes the focus from the self.  As soon as we enter the video game arena, our selves are functionally put on the shelf and a new “soldier self” is created whereby we can curse, slander, or dehumanize anyone we like and there is no accountability.  From my personal experience interpreting some of the chats I hear (and I’m not claiming this to be the absolute truth), it is almost as if people struggle for power so much in their lives perhaps without achieving it for whatever reason, so they choose to become the oppressor in order to “get back at” the power system.  What they don’t realize, I’d imagine, is that this just creates a cycle of oppression that hurts everyone.  I am not saying this is why people have pictures of a woman in a thong as their logo.  I’m sure many people do it because “it’s funny.” This brings us back to the humor debate that classifiedsarcastic and many others have written about.

But, regardless of the reason, I can’t help getting instantly angry when I see icons like this or hear people using offensive language, especially when I hear things like, “Oh, you’re such a bitch, you fucking cunt. You didn’t get me. Fuck you.” Even if those comments aren’t being directed at me, I just want to say, “Well, fuck you too you sexist ass!” And, if they are referring to me, I want to say, “Well, this bitch just beat your ass and went 33-3 with 2 chopper gunners!”  I’ll admit, sometimes I’ve gone there…not my finest moments.  But, what is the appropriate response?  Muting them and pretending it doesn’t exist? Or, what about just continuing to report these comments/icons and nicely asking them to cease and desist?   So tell me, bloggers, what do you think about this?

**I realize a simple response is, “just don’t play the game.” But, not doing something on the basis of other people’s poor use of language isn’t normally my “go to.”  I think this is particularly important given the upcoming November releases of games like Modern Warfare 3, which will most likely keep the customized icon feature.

2 Responses to “Feminist Ops”

  1. amyguzz

    Wow, this is a really interesting post! I have to be honest, I don’t know much about the gaming world, but what you’ve mentioned here makes a lot of sense. Thank you! I think it’s particularly insightful what you’ve written about the power system. I think that the use of such icons and offensive language could well be a means through which people deal with powerlessness. I also think that these kind of online gaming networks you’ve mentioned give their users a sense of security with which they can easily make the kind of comments they could never get away with outside of the internet. But you’re right: the offensive and flat-out hateful comments you’ve mentioned do function to perpetuate oppression and hate in general. What I’ve always pondered about violent video games is what draws so many people to them? I don’t think there’s a problem with video games, but what do you think is the appeal?

  2. Sunday Links Roundup «

    […] “This link is an interesting follow up to a previous blog post on sexism in video games. Recently, there has been a debate on whether or not gamers can […]


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